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Page last updated at 08:55 GMT, Saturday, 17 September 2011 09:55 UK

And they said it would never work...


The quirky tech at the IFA electronics show hoping to make a big impact

By Alex Hudson
BBC Click

X-rays are a hoax, TV will fail because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night, the light bulb is a conspicuous failure and everything that can be invented has been invented already.

All of these statements have been made in the past by people considered at the time to be experts.

History is littered with inventions and ideas now taken for granted which were once considered weird, unusable, unpopular and - in some cases - the work of some form of witchcraft or sorcery.

It is perhaps best summed up by the actor Sir Peter Ustinov, who said: "If the world should blow itself up, the last audible voice would be that of an expert saying it can't be done."

So what else have the experts got wrong and who got it right?

Figures suggest the iPad still has over a 50% share of the tablet market

The iPad was heavily hyped at its launch but some analysts worried that it slipped between the gaps of what consumers wanted and therefore would not be widely used.

The tablet had been tried on a number of occasions before and had never really had any mainstream success.

After Apple announced the product, research firm Simpson Carpenter concluded that "there isn't a compelling incentive to get mainstream consumers to buy it" and even here at Click, many were sceptical about how practical the device would be.

Less than 18 months - and nearly 30 million iPads - later, the market has been re-defined by its success.

Numerous companies have now released similar products in the hope of succeeding in a global market to be worth £30bn by the end of 2011, if one forecast is to be believed.

Red telephone
Telephones were thought unnecessary for firms with messenger boys

The telephone was successfully demonstrated in 1876, two years before Sir William Preece, then chief engineer of the British Post Office, gave his opinion about the invention.

"The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys," he said.

And he was not the only one to have reservations about it.

In an internal memo at Western Union around the time the patent was granted, the subject of the new device did not cause any great concern at the telegram company.

"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us," it read.

Despite former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's quote from 1999 when he said that "half the world's people have never made or received a telephone call" - a line that is often disputed - the telephone is used by billions of people and has made instant, remote communication a reality.

Paper notes
Yellow was chosen by accident because of what scrap paper was available

Post-It notes may not seem like the most hi-tech invention but the adhesive used on them was deemed impossible to make before it was done.

"If I had thought about it, I wouldn't have done the experiment," said creator of the adhesive Spencer Silver.

"The literature was full of examples that said you can't do this."

The difficulty was getting an adhesive that was sticky enough to stay attached to things, did not damage anything when removed and then could be re-attached.

But even after they were made, parent company 3M's marketing director could see no use for them, saying that most would just use scrap paper. Only after all requests for the product were directed to him did he change his mind.

Over 30 years later, they are sold in more than 100 countries, in 25 shapes and 62 colours.

Shoppers hunt out bargains in Birmingham
In December 2010, 6.8bn was spent online in the UK, according to IMRG

"Futurists" talking to Time Magazine in 1966 were "sure that remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop - because women like to get out of the house, like to handle merchandise, like to be able to change their minds."

That said, they did predict that "the housewife should be able to switch on to the local supermarket on the video phone, examine grapefruit and price them, all without stirring from her living room".

A more practical problem with remote shopping was how quickly things bought could be delivered, as shipping speeds when the article was published were slow.

In 1965, Yale University undergraduate Frederick W Smith wrote a term paper about the problem of getting packages across the US in one to two days. In his own words, "[he] didn't get a particularly good grade on it". It is believed that he was given a C because the idea was not feasible.

On April 17 1973, Federal Express - now known as FedEx Express - officially began operations under the leadership of CEO and founder Fred Smith.

FedEx Corporation now reports annual revenues of over $9.5 billion (£6bn).

Tom Selleck
Before his predictions, Tom Selleck had not been known as a futurologist

Science fiction is often credited with pushing the envelope of future trends - think of Star Trek's mobile communication devices or Minority Report's gesture recognition - but there are other predictions that have come true.

Despite expert after expert getting it wrong about the future, there was one man who seems to have an impeccable eye for forthcoming trends - the actor Tom Selleck, most famous for portraying Magnum PI.

"Have you ever borrowed a book from thousands of miles away?" went the adverts for mobile communications company AT&T which was voiced by Selleck.

Made by Fight Club director David Fincher in 1993, they predicted GPS navigation, Wifi networks, tablet computing (though they still sent faxes rather than emails), e-books, online shopping, video-calling (though from a phone booth, not from a mobile), streaming on-demand movie services and a number of others.

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